The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice announced the indictment today of Graeme Phillip Harris for hanging a noose and an obsolete Georgia state flag with the confederate stars and bars over the iconic statue of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. Mr Meredith integrated the Oxford, Mississippi institution in 1962, amidst klan-imposed death and violence, that paved the way for the integration of post-secondary education throughout the South. In my African-American history class, I give spacious treatment to the event including an exchange with my class on the meaning of the beautiful, graceful statue of the student entering the door of knowledge on an equal basis with white students:
Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Felicia C. Adams of the Northern District of Mississippi and Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway of the FBI Jackson Office announced today that a man was charged with federal civil rights crimes for engaging in threatening conduct directed at African American students and employees at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. Graeme Phillip Harris was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African American students because of their race or color.
According to the charging documents, Harris, a student at the university, conspired with others to use the cover of darkness to hang a rope and an outdated version of the Georgia state flag, which prominently depicts the Confederate battle flag, around the neck of the James Meredith statue on the campus of the University of Mississippi, with the intent to threaten and intimidate African-American students and employees at the university. The iconic statue honors Meredith’s role as the university’s first African American student after its contentious 1962 integration. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2014.
“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly-held values,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are. By taking appropriate action to hold wrongdoers accountable, the Department of Justice is sending a clear message that flagrant infringements of our historic civil rights will not go unnoticed or unpunished.”
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. The investigation is ongoing.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi, Division’s Oxford Resident Agency and the University of Mississippi Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Mississippi.